Region of Waterloo paramedics are being denied Workplace Safety & Insurance Board (WSIB) claims after contracting COVID-19, a move CUPE believes is being enabled by the Ford Government’s unwillingness to hold employers accountable for workplace outbreaks.
“Having fallen ill with COVID-19 from working was scary enough,” said one Region of Waterloo paramedic, who wishes to remain anonymous, “but to have my employer not support me during the quarantine period felt like a slap in the face.” WSIB claims have been denied even when paramedics have interacted with COVID-19 positive patients while on the job.
Region of Waterloo Paramedic Services is challenging WSIB claims on the basis that paramedics wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) must have contracted COVID-19 through community spread, a position that the union disputes. “Forcing frontline workers to prove occupation exposure when they have interacted with a COVID-19 patient is insulting,” says Jason Fraser a frontline paramedic and Chair of CUPE Ambulance Committee of Ontario (CACO). “PPE helps minimize workplace spread, but it is not perfect. Medics are often putting on PPE in pressure situations, out in the cold, it’s not ideal. Employers should not be fighting workers on this.”
Fraser believes that the Ford Government is letting down frontline workers by prioritizing restrictions and punishments on individual Ontarians rather than holding employers accountable when workers contract COVID-19. “Workers who have access to WSIB should be able to claim it when they contract COVID-19 on the job,” said Fraser. “Workers who do not have access WSIB need employer paid sick days now. Doug Ford has the power to minimize the spread of COVID-19 among frontline workers and he is choosing not to. Instead, he chooses to blame individuals while letting employers off the hook.”
In June, Niagara Falls MPP Wayne Gates proposed Bill 191, Workplace Safety and Insurance Amendment Act which would make it so that any essential service worker who contracts COVID-19 is presumed to have contracted it at work, allowing workers with COVID-19 to make WSIB claims. The bill has passed first reading, but with the provincial legislature currently not sitting, there is no indication that the bill will pass. Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario, which represents 280,000 frontline workers in the province, sees the bill as a first step that the government can take toward holding employers accountable for workplace COVID-19 outbreaks.
“Across Ontario we have seen COVID-19 outbreaks affecting heroic frontline workers. This needs to stop now, and the solution is quite simple,” said Hahn. “Ford needs to call MPPs back to Queen’s Park immediately, pass Bill 191 to ensure that WSIB claims are accepted – and also implement paid sick days for all workers.”
CUPE is the largest paramedic union in Ontario, representing 5,500 members working as paramedics and ambulance communication officers.